Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pastoral Care

My post below generated some great discussion, not on Women and the Church (the title of the post) but on pastoral care (or the lack thereof) in catastrophic life situations.  My friend Mary Potts, eloquent as always, relates her family's devastating non-experience of parish care as their daughter fought back against cancer and then died during her high school years.

I've kinda mentioned it before: people prefer to DO rather than to BE.  People (how gross a generalization can I make?) prefer to prepare meals, do your laundry, organize events, drive you places, accompany you to treatments ~ ANYTHING! rather than stopping by to offer their desperately longed for prayerful  and companionable presence. 

This includes hospital chaplains, who often choose stopping by to offer the Eucharist or a quick out-loud prayer over settling in for a lengthier period of listening and silence.

Some days I'm an enthusiastic proponent of CPE (clinical pastoral education) programs, and some days I'm not.  In my denomination, most presbyteries, mine included, require them for ordination, so I've done a summer program - 400 hours (which I, personally, loved).  Some programs emphasize the psychological over the spiritual, and the social work nature of pastoral care over the Biblical and theological dimensions, but I will say this: The good ones can accomplish a great deal in terms of furthering pastoral comfort in being present to those in crisis.

I suppose that I could write reams on this subject, but first: what say you?


  1. I'm very interested to hear how others respond, Robin. The gift of one's presence is the most desperately needed ministry for those of us in crisis, yet it's the one that is SO difficult for people. The general population cowers in the shadows when companionship is suggested. I find it so hard to understand, especially when it involves one who has taken vows to minister to the flock.

    Yes, the DOing of things is definitely a blessing and it give a sense of purpose to the Doers. We, the receivers, can tend to our loved one's needs without worrying about the nuts and bolts of day to day responsibilities. We were fed by members of the community for months after Erin died, and we appreciated every meal.

    But, oh what I would have given for an ongoing relationship with a faith-filled individual who could have listened, comforted, guided and prayed with me. I could still use that person... I guess I should take the initiative and seek one.

    You will be wonderful.
    Go ahead, write reams on the subject :)

  2. It all boils down to one of my grandfather's favorite sayings (and one that I would do well to be mindful of more often): "God gave you two ears and one mouth; use them that way." Listening goes much further than talking in most situations. Doing has its place but listening is key.

  3. After being in the hospital, and very I'll for eleven days, I came to appreciate people who came just to sit, for whom I did not feel the need to entertain them by holding up my end of a conversation. I also appreciated people who did not stay long, because I was very tired.

  4. I did CPE because it was required for my ordination process, and then discovered that I loved the ministry there and felt called to walk with people in those crisis times. I went back after seminary and a year assisting in a congregation for a full year of CPE before being called to pastor a congregation.

    I think that CPE is beneficial, but it depends a lot on the skill set, vocation, and openness of the person, in combination with the ethos of the program and the supervisor. Some growth will happen regardless, but maximal growth happens when the right people are in the right place at the right time. CPE students, residents and fully trained chaplains are all imperfect at times, and once you cross that with the variety of people, situations, and religious backgrounds that chaplains (and pastors) are called to, some amount of bad is bound to happen. I prayed every day that I would go where God called me and do the best that I could to serve the people I met, and at the very least that I would do no harm along the way.

    Mary's description of how her pastors/priests failed her daughter and her family in their time of need is appalling and heartbreaking.

  5. Re-reading this post, I see that it could be taken to me that I don't give credit where credit is due - for all the concrete things that people do for those who suffer a terrible loss. That would not be accurate at all -- I remain astounded and grateful for the many unexpected efforts people made on our behalf, taking care of things we could not possibly have done for ourselves for weeks.

    But this post is intended to be about pastoral care -- about people who are not expected to make soup or buy toilet paper, but *are* expected to show up and manifest the presence of God.

    I think that it would be universally agreed that Mary's church team failed her and her family completely. Their church was NOT church for the Potts family.

    I really do feel as if my spiritual director made up his mind that he was not going to let me die -- and looking back, I am sure that I exhausted all of his resources of time and energy. But the reality is - bereaved mothers need someone to step in and carry part of the spiritual/psychological load, because we cannot possibly do it alone without sustaining even more hurt and damage.

  6. A friend of mine posted the following quote on her Facebook wall and I immediately thought of you and this journal entry. (Not sure who she is quoting as no credit was given.)

    When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

  7. We hold hope for those in need until they can hold it for themselves.

  8. Stacy, your friend quoted Henri Nouwen on her FB wall, and the words are true. There are individuals in my life who have been that kind of friend to me. I'd have to say there aren't many because the majority of people want to "fix" something, but it only takes a few and I'm so very grateful for them. My issue is with the lack of pastoral care. Like Robin is saying, the church failed me, deeply and miserably, and as a result I floundered about while Erin was sick and I continue to feel I'm missing some of the tools I need on the path of healing.

  9. Tomorrow I'm teaching a class of nursing students on the topics of Parental Loss and Grief and Disenfranchised grief. A lot of what I've learned from my blogging life is going onto that presentation.

  10. I'm so looking forward to hearing how that class went, Robin!

  11. My husband is being asked to take a CPE training course.

    I'm appalled at the way the formal Formation Team is going about this process. Appalled.

    However, I'm very grateful that we both have 12 Step Recovery to guide us when human beings in the church fail. Because we go back to principles above personalities, and the 3rd step, asking us to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.

    And so, we are looking at a program in Chicago for this summer.

    I'm thrilled at the possibilities of what God can do. I have seen an enormous change in this man I married. Because of the requirements of his process that he simply go, be present, sit with and listen to, people who are suffering.

    I think there is a very real difference in having friends who come and fill these needs, and the gaping holes in the hierarchy of church institutions who, even though they are supposed to (and we're supposed to imagine that they will) and they do not.

  12. Do you mean that he'll do CPE in Chicago?

    And yes, to your second to last paragraph. On more than one occasion I have listened to someone go on and on about his or her stuff, ask me nothing about myself at all (even in the usual manner of the courteous give-and-take of ordinary conversation), and then express bewilderment at having been asked to undergo some kind of training that emphasizes listening and presence.

    Pretty funny, in a sad kind of way.